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An operating system is the low-level software that supports a computer’s basic functions. It manages the computer’s memory and processes, as well as all of its software and hardware. Today, when you buy a computer it usually comes preloaded with the latest popular operating system, such as Windows, Mac OS X or Linux. Today’s operating systems use a GUI, or graphical user interface, to interact with the computer and utilise its functions.
Early computers didn’t have an operating system, with each program needing the full hardware to run smoothly and perform the tasks that where needed, with specific drivers for peripheral devices such as punched paper card readers. As hardware and programs developed, and became more complex, operating systems were needed for the everyday use of a computer.
The first form of operating system was made by General Motors for their IBM 701 computer. It was developed in their Research Laboratories, and soon became known as a ‘single-stream batch’ processing system due to the fact that programs and data were submitted in groups or batches. It was known, at the time, as a system monitor, and was created in 1955. Despite this, the first recognised operating system was created in 1956 by Robert L. Patrick of General Motors and Owen Mock of North American Aviation and was based on the system monitor for the IBM 701. It was called GM-NAA I/O, I/O meaning input/output, and its main function was to automatically start a new program once the one that was currently being executed had finished, known as batch processing. Operating system’s developed onwards from then on and became the operating systems that we know and use everyday today.
UNIX is an operating system that was originally created in 1969 at AT&T Bell Labs by Ken Thompson, Douglas Ritchie and Douglas Mcllroy. It was invented when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, AT&T Bell Labs, and General Electric were jointly developing a time sharing operating system which was called Multics for the GE-645. Bell Labs were frustrated by the size and complexity of Multics and eventually pulled out of the project. Despite this they still saw the value in the aims of the project, and decided to repeat their work, but on a much smaller scale. This drive and determination led to an operating system that was smaller than the previously envisioned Multics system, and was called UNIX. UNIX is the umbrella name for a family of different operating systems that have developed from the original UNIX system created in 1969.
Linux is an operating system that is widely used today in a range of devices, as it was free when released and is popular as it can be modified and suited to a user’s liking. It appealed to people who liked the look of UNIX but wanted a free version.
After UNIX was released, AT&T started to sell licenses for the operating system to universities and other commercial vendors. Because of this, those without a license could not modify or distribute the source code, making UNIX an exclusive operating system. Soon different versions, for different uses and with different licenses, emerged. Linux was an operating system that formed from two separate projects: the GNU project, started in 1983 by Richard Stallman, and the Linux kernel, written in 1991 by Linus Torvalds. The aim of the GNU project was to create an operating system that was very similar to UNIX, but in the same way different, without any code from UNIX, so that it could be modified and distributed as free software. Since the GNU kernel was not yet completed, the GNU Project instead used the Linux kernel forming the GNU/Linux operating system. The design of the Linux kernel was influenced by another variant of UNIX, called MINIX, but instead of using the same code, an entirely new code was written from scratch.
Although similar, Linux and UNIX have key differences that characterise each operating system, for example; whereas to use UNIX you needed a license to run it, Linux is open sourced and is entirely free to download and use. Despite Linux being a replica of UNIX, it doesn’t contain the same code, instead using a new code written by its creators. UNIX refers to an entire, working operating system, but the term Linux refers only to the kernel that the GNU Project adopted to create their operating system. UNIX was developed for large servers and workstations, but Linux was developed for personal computers, and today, has more users than UNIX. Lastly Linux also supports more filesystem types than UNIX.
Ubuntu is a distribution of Linux, using the Linux kernel as the foundation of the operating system. Like Linux it is a free to use operating system that can be installed onto any computer. Ubuntu is an operating system that you can boot your computer up with, without changing the computers operating system.
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